by Tribute Jabulile Mboweni
I grew up in the Lowveld, in an area called Mkhuhlu in Bushbuckridge, close to the Kruger National Park. While growing up, I took part in a number of environmental education programmes both in primary school and high school. But as you can imagine, I crossed paths with a lot of other things along the way. Music, and literature which led to my love for books and languages, were some of these things. And when it was time for me to go to Varsity, there was a pool of things that I wanted to study, but the folks had other plans. The first thing I was told, even before I could say a thing was “You are not going to study music”, and I was okay with that. I decided to study Ecotourism, which is a combination of Tourism Management and Nature Conservation, but still, I had to cry to convince the folks to let me do this. It worked! And then my journey in things environmental began.
Early in 2009, while working at an Island on the West Coast, I was preparing for my graduation. I was due to get my National Diploma in Ecotourism, and because I had had to answer so many questions about what Ecotourism is about throughout my Diploma years, I felt that as a way to celebrate my graduation, I needed to educate people about this. That’s when I started Projekt 23 – The Green Movement, a community project that deals with environmental education and the planting of indigenous trees at schools and the broader community. I conducted the first environmental awareness programme on the day before my graduation at 3 schools in Atteridgeville, and another in Pretoria West. The programme, centred on the word CAP (Conservation, Awareness, Participation), was concluded with the planting of trees. This was followed, a few months later, by the Department of Water Affairs conducting a similar programme on Water Conservation, with the assistance of Projekt 23.
Since then, the Projekt 23 programme has been conducted in schools and communities in Soshanguve and Mabopane, Winterveldt and Mamelodi areas, and the journey remains a learning experience at every turn. I have also been blessed to take the project outside of the country, in Conferences and Youth Summits in Germany, Canada and Japan; conferences involving other young environmentalists from all over the world. The one thing that stood out for me as I interacted with all these young people is that, even though, unlike me, they are not in the environment-related study field, they pursue issues of the environment just as passionately, because they are aware that these issues affect them in the same way. Take Riska, from Indonesia, whom I met in Germany:
Riska selling Eco friendly shoes
Riska, 24, was raised in a village in the tropical forest of Sumatera and as she grew older, decided to try her life luck in the city. Whenever she would go back and forth between Jakarta and Sumatera, she would witness how the enormous area of forest in her hometown was getting depleted from logging, both legal and illegal. Besides, living in a city of Jakarta with 11 million people inside, the modern destruction of the environment, through pollution of air and water was always evident. She graduated from a business school, and surprisingly, her thinking is not solely about getting profit, but also on how to generate profit beyond herself and tangible money. Through environmental activities, Riska aims to empower entrepreneurship and the environment hand-in-hand. She is now running a start-up company, Klassamirza Eco-footwear, producing shoes made of 20-70% recycled materials, hand-crafted by a group of shoe makers in two areas in Bogor and Tangerang, West Java. Through Klassamirza, she can implement a triple bottom line business: earning healthy profit, reducing amount of textile waste, and providing jobs for her community.
There’s also Alfredo Diaz, from Colombia, whom I also met in Germany.
Alfredo is a 26 year old Mechanical Engineer from Barranquilla, Colombia. He says, “I’ve loved Science since I was a child, and lately I’ve been really curious about how, from the optic of my career, I can give in favor of the environment. Recently, I’ve been working in chemical processes to take advantage of residues to produce cleaner energy. Researching on biofuels production from raw processes has been, besides the frustration you can get from unsuccessful lab experiences, a tremendous inspiring track in my life. The possibility to develop renewable, reliable, and non-toxic fuels in favor of local economies and contributing to environmental responsibility may present a powerful alternative in the short-term to help humankind and reduce environmental destruction”.
These are just two of many young people whom I have met, whom despite not having studied Nature Conservation, are taking responsibility and doing what they are able to, to contribute towards environmental responsibility in their communities. Different communities find themselves in different situations, and the key thing to do is to address issues which are relevant to our communities. If the issue is that of lack of awareness, let us make it our responsibility to educate our people, formally and casually. It’s as easy as starting a conversation with a person on the street. If Riska and Alfredo are able to do that, you too can do it in your community.